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Boiler operator found to hold expired licence

A security guard closes the entrance gate of the Chinese-owned garment factory that had a boiler explosion killing one and injuring seven Thursday last week in Phnom Penh.
A security guard closes the entrance gate of the Chinese-owned garment factory that had a boiler explosion killing one and injuring seven Thursday last week in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Boiler operator found to hold expired licence

Following a boiler explosion last week that killed one and injured seven others at a Levi Strauss & Co and C&A brand supplier in Phnom Penh, authorities yesterday said that the boiler operator – in addition to the boiler itself – had been working on an expired licence.

Phork Sovanrith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts, said that the licence for boiler operator Ou Von, who has been detained since Thursday, “expired the same day as the boiler [permit]”, in early February.

According to Sovanrith the ministry’s last inspection of the Zhen Tai garment factory occurred in early 2016.

What’s more, when the explosion occurred on Wednesday, he said, the boiler was unattended.

“[The operator] put a lot of wood into the boiler to keep the fire going when he left for lunch,” Sovanrith said, adding that “no matter what, the factory will need to be accountable and also the [operator]”.

Esther Germans, from the oversight program Better Factories Cambodia – which is investigating the incident alongside Levi’s and the authorities – yesterday noted in an email that “we are only aware of one worker being certified to operate the boiler”.

William Conklin, the country director of labour right group the Solidarity Centre, said this presented a clear problem.

“What happens if he is sick or cannot come to work? Obviously they need backup or a team,” he said in an email.

Meanwhile, Ty Sophon, the husband of deceased worker Kor Samon, 48, yesterday said that Zhen Tai had provided him and his in-laws $12,000 in compensation, as well as money for funeral costs.

In a statement yesterday, Thorsten Rolfes, a spokesman for Dutch clothing brand C&A, said that the company’s last audit of Zhen Tai was in November and found no irregularities, adding that, nonetheless, the company has “launched an in-depth investigation” into the explosion.

“C&A’s Sustainable Supply Chain team is on-site to conduct its investigations and we will provide further information as it becomes available and when families are properly informed,” he wrote.

An individual answering a call at the number listed for a Zhen Tai representative yesterday denied being the representative, before going on to say she had resigned from the company.

Additional reporting by Jovina Chua

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